As you drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota, one thing you can’t help but notice is the abundance of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). While I’m sure that many locals use them as work vehicles, most folks use ATVs in the Black Hills to drive the roads and trails within the National Forest. As we found, it’s a great way to have fun and explore some of the gorgeous remote scenery.
After seeing these vehicles on the road just about everywhere, we started thinking that it might be fun to rent one. Grant always likes driving dirt roads and REALLY enjoys driving unimproved dirt roads that require high clearance and four-wheel drive. With an ATV you’re getting all that with even rougher roads in even more remote areas.
We spent a few days debating if we really wanted to spend the money. After looking at a few maps and reading a few reviews, Grant was quickly convinced this was worth the price. It took me a little longer to be convinced but, honestly, I don’t think I could have changed Grant’s mind if I had really tried. And that’s why I’m writing this article.
When we first started planning the article, I figured Grant would write it because, well, he’s the “let’s get some mud on the tires” guy. He said, “No. Everyone would expect me to enjoy getting out on an ATV. They might not expect that you’d enjoy it as much as I did.”
I did love it, so, here’s my advice on ATV rentals in the Black Hills.
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Where to Rent an ATV in the Black Hills
There are quite a few places to rent an ATV in the Black Hills. We stayed in Custer, so we chose Adventure Rentals, which is located right at the main intersection in downtown Custer. After looking at the vehicle options and prices, we decided to rent a 2-person UTV for a full day (8 hours). They also offer bigger vehicles and half-day options.
Let me take a moment and clarify here: an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) is also known as a four-wheeler and is typically meant for one person. A UTV (utility task vehicle) is also known as a side-by-side (SxS) because it allows for that type of seating. UTVs also tend to be able to handle rougher conditions and are generally considered safer. Larger UTVs can seat as many as 6 people.
Technically, what we rented was a UTV. Since most folks don’t know the difference and refer to all of these vehicles as ATVs, that is the term I have chosen to use for much of this article.
Not only was the Custer location of Adventure Rentals convenient for us but the prices were reasonable. We also really liked that the UTV came with a tablet with GPS and suggested points of interest. And it had GREAT reviews.
If you are staying in another town, I’m sure you’ll find a rental company there. We’re not here to promote any one company. We just want you to know how much fun you’ll have and what you can expect when ATVing in the Black Hills.
What to Expect on a UTV
If you’ve never driven (or ridden in) a UTV, you may be a little concerned about what you’re getting yourself into. As previously stated, UTVs are set up with 1, 2 or 3 rows of side-by-side seating. Basically, it’s like a beefy golf cart with four-wheel drive or a compact dune-buggy.
Additionally, our vehicle had a roof, windshield, half-doors, rearview mirror and seatbelts. I have to say, I felt completely safe the entire time, even when we got into some seriously steep uphill or downhill rock-crawling areas. I would have maybe preferred a harness-style seatbelt, which we saw on other vehicles, rather than the traditional one-shoulder seatbelt. Honestly, though, that would have been more of a “cool factor” than the vehicle really needing it for what we did.
I think that kids have to wear a helmet but we did not. If we hadn’t had a roof, I would have wanted a helmet. As it was, I basically felt like we were riding in a mini Jeep Wrangler.
Also, expect to get dirty! Of course, this depends on how much you seek out big puddles but you certainly need to expect to get at least a little wet and/or muddy. When we hit large puddles or muddy areas, we got splashed on the sides as well as up from the bottom, through the drain holes.
Finally, expect a lot of fun and a lot of amazing scenery!
Where to Go on an ATV in the Black Hills
As I mentioned previously, there are thousands of miles of forest service roads and trails in the Black Hills. All of these can be explored on an ATV. Grant had read about a few areas but, honestly, we just followed the advice of Adventure Rentals and the points of interests on the GPS they gave us.
From Custer, we headed north and west. Some of the roads we drove were regular, unpaved roads that are open to all vehicles. Some were trails that are restricted to smaller vehicles such as UTVs, ATVs or mountain bikes.
We really didn’t have a plan at all. And it worked out just fine. Our only gripe: we didn’t have more time to explore even more areas!
Our ATV Experience
After picking up our ATV, we headed north following the suggestions given to us. First, we were on the main highway. Then, on several unpaved roads leading to the ATV trails.
At one point, we drove through a herd of cattle. In fact, we passed quite a few houses and ranches on some of the “bigger” roads.
A little later, we rounded a bend and suddenly we were at a fabulous overlook. And that’s kind of how it was all day: riding along through nice scenery until you found something absolutely unexpected and/or fantastic.
As we drove, it didn’t take long for Grant to find a couple of big puddles of water across the entire road. Of course, all that meant to Grant was go faster and get some mud on the tires – and on us! Granted, there are legitimate reasons for speeding up in the muddy areas: with more momentum comes less chance of getting stuck. Still, for Grant, I think it’s mostly to have fun! And, I gotta admit, splashing through the puddles really was a lot of fun!
With every run through the water/mud, we got dirtier. We had mud on our legs, arms and head. It came up through the drain holes, in from the sides over the doors and dripped off the roof. Sometimes it seemed to be falling from the sky.
Driving the ATV
Grant generally does most of the “off road” driving in our truck. He’s had more experience both from being in the Army and with the Jeep Wrangler he used to have. Plus, he just enjoys it more. With the UTV, though, I definitely wanted my chance to drive. We decided to switch off every hour or so, giving us both several opportunities to drive.
We each got to drive on the main highway, bigger unpaved dirt roads, small trails with tons of rocks and steep inclines, through large mud puddles and even over a couple of creek crossings. All in all, it worked out well.
While driving an ATV on the main roads isn’t bad, driving the smaller roads is much better. Yes, they can go reasonably fast (40-45 mph) but its painfully obvious you’re not going as fast as a full-size vehicle.
Of course, it’s also more fun to splash through the water and crawl up or down the severe inclines. I had one really rocky and steep part that I really wasn’t quite sure we were going to get through. Thankfully, I found the right spots and powered up the hill and we made it just fine.
Honestly, though, it’s those “iffy” situations that make driving an ATV fun!
Points of Interest Along Our Route
As mentioned previously, our ATV was equipped with a tablet with a fantastic map. The best part was that it tracked your route so you could see where you had already been. This also was helpful for those with a not-so-good sense of direction to help prevent you from getting lost. If all else fails and you can’t figure out how to get back, you could always just retrace your steps.
We liked that we could see what was up ahead and figure out where we wanted to go. The map had several points of interest marked, though we didn’t always know what they meant. Some were just general areas and others were specific sights.
Some of the more interesting things we saw were a couple of great overlooks, the silica mines, Deerfield Lake and Bear Mountain Fire Tower. Many of the roads and trails we drove were just plain gorgeous, though. I mean, we saw tons of great scenery in the Black Hills over our three-week stay. I’ll be honest, though, some of the best of it was in the backcountry, on the ATV.
While the lookouts were great and the lake was nice, just driving the remote roads and trails was, by far, the best part. Well, that and how few other people we saw. Yes, we saw other ATVers and other cars and trucks on the bigger roads. Those were few and far between, though. There was just something about the remoteness that we loved.
What to Bring on Your ATV Adventure
As you plan for your own ATV adventure in the Black Hills, be sure to wear clothes (and shoes) that you can get wet and/or muddy. I’d also suggest bringing a bag or cooler that can get dirty. You’ll also need bungee cords or carabiners to secure your stuff. Our ATV had a small cargo area in the back, which is where we put a bag and a cooler. Yes, they still got dirty, but at least they didn’t get as wet as they would have on the floor of the ATV.
If you’re out all day, you’ll probably want to pack a lunch. It really was nice to have that with us and not have to worry about going into town to get food. Sunscreen is good too as you’ll likely drive through a lot of open areas. Remember, there are no windows, meaning no window tinting. That means you can expect to get a lot of sun.
Really, just bring anything you might need for the amount of time you’re out. Kind of like a day at the beach, only you’re in the woods!
Final Thoughts on Renting an ATV in the Black Hills
We had been in the Black Hills for nearly three weeks before our ATV day. In that time, we’d driven many scenic roads, visited several state and national parks and gone on quite a few day hikes. Still, we saw so much new scenery and amazing views on the ATV that it was absolutely worth it!
There is just something about getting into the remote, unspoiled backcountry that we truly loved. Yes, you see some of this when hiking. It may feel like you see some of this on unpaved roads. Exploring on an ATV, though, allows you to get even further into the backcountry and have some real fun. While we both enjoy hiking, it’s a lot of work. On an ATV, it’s just fun.
Whether you are visiting for a few days or a few weeks, I highly suggest renting an ATV in the Black Hills. It really is a great way to explore and have fun!
Still not sure about renting an ATV? There are plenty of great scenic drives that you can do in your own vehicle! Read more about the scenic drives in the Black Hills here.